Those closest to the Dungeon Family descendant saw how the world co-opted his slang and dope boy perspective. Yet compared to his brethren, his impact on hip-hop culture isn’t nearly as well-known
In 1995, before rapper Cool Breeze signed to Atlanta production trio Organized Noize’s Interscope imprint, he saw what was at stake. After rap’s center of gravity had volleyed from New York to Los Angeles and back for more than a decade, OutKast’s 1994 debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik became a sales breakthrough for Southern hip-hop. Yet critics refused to give OutKast their due respect. Rico Wade, Organized Noize’s ideas man, was devastated. “This record done went platinum, and these motherfuckers wrote articles about how these dudes are too young to be pimps and players,” Cool Breeze remembers Wade saying.
Cool Breeze knew that logic was flawed. Before he shifted his focus to music at age 17, the man born Frederick Bell sold drugs during the ’80s crack epidemic, when Georgia’s Red Dog strike force was still active. But people also tend to think that folks from the South are either dumb or backwards, and that early criticism sounded similarly condescending. So in the days thereafter, Cool Breeze wrote a response track with a taunting hook: “What you really know about the Dirty South?”
“I’m about to let you know that we’re up on our game about the politics and drug units, “ Cool Breeze says. “What you’re doing, we’re doing too. You’re thinking we’re country. You’re thinking we’re slow. But we’re one up on you.”
If Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik spearheaded a movement, “Dirty South” branded it. Casual shout-outs from artists like Timbaland led to countless others adopting Cool Breeze’s no-nonsense dope boy perspective for themselves. (Comedian Dave Chappelle even praises T.I.’s “Dirty South shit” in his 2018 album Dime Trap.) For a close examination of Southern rap’s meteoric rise, look no further than a documentary, VH1 special and three books all named Dirty South, after what was originally a solo Cool Breeze track.
Dungeon Family affiliates Goodie Mob get the lion’s share of the credit, since the song only appears on the group’s 1995 debut Soul Food. What doesn’t help is how streaming services credit Frederick Bell as a “Dirty South” songwriter but don’t list Cool Breeze as a featured artist. Cool Breeze says his accomplishments speak for themselves. But he also would have done “Dirty South” differently.
Friends from outside Georgia would call Cool Breeze the next day, saying, “Hey man, they performed your song last night. We thought you were going to come out.”
“Dirty South” began at Martel Homes, the housing projects in southwest Atlanta suburb East Point where Bell stayed with his grandmother until he was ten years old. From there, when he wasn’t learning to sing or play guitar with his father, a singer in local R&B group the Descendants, Cool Breeze was falling into drug dealing. “I could be bad around my mama because I didn’t have to come straight home,” he says. “She wanted her only son to be tough.”
Cool Breeze still bears that same tough-guy attitude today. “I know partners who done been beat up by them,” he says of the Red Dogs. “Did I ever get locked up or fucked up by them? Nope. I was too OG for that. I had my little goons doing that type of stuff. You do know who you’re talking to, right?”
But in “Dirty South,” Cool Breeze paints the Red Dogs as a formidable threat, with its notorious use of excessive force. “One to the two, the three, the fo’ / Them dirty Red Dogs done hit the do’,” he raps in a hushed voice, “and they got everybody on they hands and knees / and they ain’t gonna leave until they find them keys.” Such violence hints at an even larger threat: “See, life’s a bitch, then you figure out / why you really got dropped in the Dirty South.” Here, Cool Breeze implies that the CIA brought dope to the ghetto to further enslave black people, in the same conspiratorial tone as Bill Cooper’s 1991 manifesto Behold a Pale Horse. OutKast wasn’t too young to be pimps and players, per se. But Big Boi rapped about the trap from a safe distance – how one piss test gone wrong could have you “just that, trapped.” Cool Breeze sounded like he never abandoned his triple beams.
Rico Wade was the first person to believe in Cool Breeze’s streets-rooted perspective, that he could be “be big in the South like buffalo wings,” as he raps in “Weeastpointin’.” Cool Breeze would have been foolish to not believe Wade, the only guy he knew who worked a proper after-school job since he was 13. (Wade had OutKast audition for the Dungeon Family collective while on the clock at LaMonte’s Beauty Supply.) After a stint rapping with future Goodie Mob member Gipp in a group called East Point Chain Gang, Cool Breeze also fell in with the Dungeon Family.
A hot sauce company, a Serbian DJ and dozens of other entities have trademarked the phrase “Dirty South” in some form.
“Dungeon Family was not no street n----- to me,” he says. “I could have already been putting out records with street n-----. But I took a leap and left the streets and said, ‘I’m going over here to make music because they’re real serious. I know things will get done because Rico says that he’s doing it.’”
Wade’s larger vision for the Dungeon Family is also why “Dirty South” ended up being a posse cut and the lead single of Goodie Mob’s Soul Food. Because he wanted to introduce OutKast and Goodie Mob out of the Dungeon Family first, Wade decided to feature one emcee from each, Big Boi and Gipp, to further build hype for their respective groups. According to Wade, Gipp brought “Dirty South” to his attention. “He didn’t even want it for Goodie Mob. He just wanted me to help Cool Breeze,” he says. But Cool Breeze insists that he presented Wade with “Dirty South” first, as a charitable act on his part – to help Organized Noize plant the flag for Southern hip-hop once and for all. He agreed to at least feature Big Boi, despite OutKast being the “kiddie group” (Cool Breeze is 47, while Big is 42). But then Gipp “begged” to hop on as well.
If Cool Breeze has a single regret from that time, it is that “Dirty South” features Gipp. Like Wade, Cool Breeze has known Gipp since they were in eighth grade. Gipp even raps in “Dirty South” about they had “been on the grind” together. But Cool Breeze swears that Gipp tried to run away with the burgeoning hit. During Goodie Mob’s promo tour for Soul Food, Gipp would perform his “Dirty South” verse without anyone else from the song present, neither Cool Breeze nor Big Boi. Friends from outside Georgia would call Cool Breeze the next day, saying, “Hey man, they performed your song last night. We thought you were going to come out.”
“I could have easily been there,” Cool Breeze says. “He didn’t have to pay me nothing. [Goodie Mob] didn’t have no money; this was a promo run. But he would do that shit behind my back and wasn’t going to tell me nothing.”
Cool Breeze trademarked the phrase “Dirty South” once, in 1997, though in retrospect that trademark may as well have belonged to Goodie Mob. VIBE magazine once misattributed Cool Breeze’s verse to the group’s T-Mo. In the 2000 documentary The Dirty South: Raw and Uncut, Khujo says the phrase refers to the “old prune-face ass white folk” running the otherwise black mecca Atlanta, as if he coined it himself. Goodie Mob even named its 2003 greatest hits collection Dirty South Classics. (Meanwhile, Gipp has given Cool Breeze credit at least once before
“Goodie Mob liked that hype it was bringing to them,” Cool Breeze says. “That wasn’t right. They took advantage of the fact that I wasn’t putting out records out at that moment they were doing what they was doing. That was low.”
What didn’t help matters was how Cool Breeze fell to relative obscurity. After Organized Noize Records released Cool Breeze’s lone major label release, East Point’s Greatest Hit, in 1999, the production trio left Interscope with $17 million of its label deal unspent because they felt they weren’t getting their return on investment. Cool Breeze still fondly remembers how Wade helped him pen the hook for album banger “Cre-A-Tine” (“Who still on parole (I got people on) / On house arrest (I got people on) / With time to the door, pleading no contest…”). But “Cre-A-Tine” may also be the closest that people have come to hearing Cool Breeze at his fullest potential. “I wrote [East Point’s Greatest Hit] on the practice field; I didn’t write it from the stadium,” he says. “I never thought that I wouldn’t do another one at that time. I thought that we’d come right back with another album.”
Once Cool Breeze was back to being a free agent, he reunited with another rap group of his from childhood, the Calhouns, for their 2002 self-titled release off the independent label Empire Musicwerks. But The Calhouns wasn’t an artistic statement like East Point’s Greatest Hit. The Calhouns was the group stitching together leftover verses, attempting to make a coherent whole for relatively easy cash. Meanwhile, a hot sauce company, a Serbian DJ and dozens of other entities have trademarked the phrase “Dirty South” in some form.
Cool Breeze gamely performed at the Dungeon Family reunion at the 2016 One MusicFest in Atlanta. He was actually the first member to take the stage, and along with “Dirty South,” he helped perform “Watch for the Hook,” his own Billboard Rap #1 single featuring all of the Dungeon Family’s core members: Andre 3000, Big Boi, Witchdoctor, Cee-Lo Green, Khujo, T-Mo and Gipp. Still, that family affair only confirmed what Cool Breeze already knew about himself, that he was and always has been the more distant relative. “We’re cool, but that’s because we’re all produced by the same people,” he says.
The Dungeon Family reunion also featured a surprise cameo from T.I., who should have recognized Cool Breeze among the other members. Today, T.I’s pop-up Trap Music Museum in Atlanta features an East Point’s Greatest Hit in a display case, next to other pivotal releases from trap music’s inception. The museum could use a caption to explain East Point’s importance. But its inclusion hints at how Cool Breeze’s influence can still be heard today, even as Atlanta hip-hop’s center of gravity shifts further north of East Point. (He swears that he heard some newer trap rapper shout out northside suburb Norcross, as if inspired by Gwinnett County natives Migos. “That was probably some Crip and Blood shit that came in from out of town,” he laughs.)
Cool Breeze will gladly tell you a thousand times that while Eightball, MJG and Geto Boys came first, he was the one who made Southern pride a hip-hop phenomenon.
“The T.I.s, the Jeezys, all those other guys – when these other rap generations came up, all they knew is people talking about the South,” he says. “That is the funniest thing for the creator of the ‘Dirty South,’ for Cool Breeze. Fucking hilarious. I know good and damn well when I brought out, from the street to the studio, from East Point to Southern hip-hop.”
Header image © Courtesy of Cool Breeze